Tuesday 14 October 2014

Why I'm Anti-Grace

Let me clear something up right off the bat. This isn't a post against the grace of God. That kind of grace is something that I am very much in favour of, especially as I am such a needy recipient of it. No, this is about the pre-meal ceremony.

Let me also say this: if the group of people who read this blog post in any way intersects with the group of people I end up having dinner with then please read this with a pinch of salt. If you invite me to dinner then I shall be incredibly honoured to be eating your food and more than happy to go along with meal-related prayers if you so desire.

That said, there are two reasons why I'm against the saying of grace, and three reasons why I think it's actually undesirable.

Grace doesn't lead to actual greater thankfulness. This is the big one. What I'm not saying is that we need to be less thankful - quite the opposite. We ought to be continually cultivating gratitude to God. "Pray continually, and give thanks whatever happens" - so says Paul (1 Thessalonians 5:17-18). What I've found, though, is that grace doesn't actually help me to cultivate that gratitude. Maybe that's true for me and not for others. Perhaps one reason that it doesn't have much meaning for me is that it's so quick that it's difficult for my brain to catch up with the words. Perhaps it's because it's a ceremony, a ritual, and one which is done with great regularity. Now this is true, to one degree or another, about everything that we do frequently. It's easy to slip into stale legalism. That doesn't mean that the thing itself is bad or that we should stop doing it. But I guess I've reached the point where if grace is being said then I try and make it mean something, but that I would overwhelmingly prefer not to have to try. As I've said, that doesn't mean that I want to be less grateful. In fact, I want my gratitude to extend beyond food and to be a whole lot more regular than only at mealtimes. But, as it is, grace doesn't actually make me thankful, even when gratitude is something that I want to express.

Grace doesn't lead to more ethical eating. The cynical part of me is quick to nitpick about this. Are people who say grace the same people who care most about making sure their food is sustainably sourced, fairly priced, low-carbon or produced so as to give dignity to the animals involved? There are so many issues to untangle there that it's perhaps unfair to make the complaint. And I'm probably not any less guilty than the next guy in how I shop. Yet there's an inherent part of me which is uncomfortable with giving thanks to God about the food in front of us and not caring about any of these issues. It's an act-out-what-you're-saying thing. A people who thank God for their food without caring where it comes from are like a people that God takes to task for fasting whilst mistreating their workers.

Grace is awkward. Seriously. Every time you have dinner with Christians you are left in an incredibly awkward no-man's-land where you're totally unsure whether people want to say grace or not. The shiftiness and playing for time that takes place between people getting their food and starting to eat is a social nether-land which is totally unnecessary. Now, whilst I'm a member of the 'no grace' camp, the real enemy here is uncertainty. Somebody making a firm decision on which way to go is best to avoid the Mexican stand-off.

Grace is exclusive. Can you imagine anything less inclusive for a non-Christian who's having dinner with Christians than said Christians stopping the entire conversation to pray to the God which that person doesn't believe in? The worst part of it is that the grace-sayer might be completely unaware that they've created an uncomfortable situation. They might not know the extra friend that somebody brought at the last minute sufficiently well yet to know whether they're a Christian or not. Grace is potentially an incredibly isolating experience that could leave someone feeling like they've fallen short of everyone else's moral standards. Even if the chances of someone having an experience like that is slim, it's worth not taking the chance.

Grace is primetime for inane Christian sayings. Let me pick out three to take down.
- "Bless this food to our bodies". I have no real idea what this means. Is it a request for divine assistance with digestion? If you have a problem with that then you should probably take a pill for it rather than sharing it with the room.
- "Be present in our conversations". Does this mean that we have to talk about God? Is that compulsory? Or is the suggestion that God would otherwise be absent?
-"Thank you for the hands that made it". If you're genuinely grateful to the cooks then you should probably tell them that directly rather than praying for them in the third person.

Ultimately, though, however awkward or exclusive or full of waffle I find grace sometimes, the first point is the most important. It's an issue of gratitude. Perhaps grace genuinely helps you to remember to be grateful. For me it doesn't so I'm opting out.